The Best Landlord for You

Chelsea Robertson and Tom Green, above, chose the extra amenities of a corporate-managed building.

Big or small? It’s not just a question of square footage. Among the many choices D.C.-area renters face when looking for a new place is which kind of management company or landlord is the right size for them.

Do you go for the amenities of a big building, with its usually higher price? Or rent from an independent landlord, who may be more flexible on your rent but less available to fix your sink?

New parents Chelsea Robertson, 25, and Tom Green, 33, found that the amenities at their corporately managed building on Columbia Pike in Arlington were worth the price, making apartment life with a 3-month-old easier.

“I used to have to go to the Post Office a lot to pick up my packages,” says Robertson. Now, she’s on a first-name basis with the doormen, who hold packages for her.

Of course, to get those perks, Robertson and Green pay quite a bit more than they did in their last place.

“We’re paying about 50 percent more than we did [before], but we had two other roommates and less space,” Robertson says.

Sara Miller, 25, found a steal when she rented a two-story, one-bedroom Eastern Market apartment from a private landlord. The landlord had owned the apartment for years, and he charged Miller the same low rent he’d charged previous tenants.

Sara Miller relied on a helpful landlord for repairs.

But she also discovered one of the downsides of renting from an individual landlord: unpredictability. When her landlord sold the place, the new owners raised her rent from $890 to $2,100 a month. There was nothing Miller could do. Small landlords (those who own four or fewer properties) are typically exempt from D.C. rent-control laws.

“I moved,” she says. “It was terrible.”

When it comes time to move, having a larger company as your landlord can sometimes be advantageous. Gabriella Berman, 22, lives near the Cleveland Park Metro in a building owned by DARO Management Services, which owns 13 other properties in D.C. Once she’s lived in the building for a year, she could transfer to another DARO-managed building without financial penalties.

“If I ever need to move in the middle of my lease, I won’t lose my deposit,” Berman says.

Another perk of corporate-managed buildings: on-site maintenance staffers who can respond quickly in an emergency.

When Robertson’s apartment had a water leak after midnight one night, the maintenance man, who lives in the building, got out of bed to fix it.

“It’s nice having somebody looking out for you,” she says.

If you’re renting from a private landlord, maintenance can be hit or miss. Landlords who live far away may be slower to respond to maintenance requests.

On the other hand, some private landlords are more involved in what’s going on with the place because they own it themselves. When Miller accidentally locked herself out one day, her landlord, who lived in Vienna, drove to the District to let her in.

“Good management and bad management can be provided by all sizes of management companies,” says Dennis Taylor of the D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate.

Before you sign a lease, ask lots of questions to find out how involved the landlord is, advises Heather Lewis, 40, who’s both a landlord and a tenant, renting out her Chinatown studio and living in a larger place in Shirlington, Va. “Do they seem interested in you? Do they actually know what’s going on in their apartment?”

Taylor agrees and offers this advice: “Research property managers the same way as researching a doctor, auto mechanic or a grocery store.”

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Price Point: $1,250 to $1,750